Monday, April 06, 2020

"Playing Russian Roulette With Patient's Lives"

On March 25, 2000, 22-year-old Maria Rodriguez went to Steve Lichtenberg's Albany Medical Surgical Center for a late second trimester abortion. At about 9:00 a.m., Maria was showing signs of shock from hemorrhage. Lichtenberg had failed to notice that he had ruptured Maria's uterus. Rather than transport her to a properly equipped hospital, Lichtenberg tried to treat his patient's deteriorating condition in his clinic, without determining the cause of the problem.  It wasn't until an hour and a half after Maria suffered her life-threatening injury that it occurred to somebody to call 911 and have Maria taken to a properly equipped hospital. By then, Maria had lost so much blood that there was nothing that doctors could do to save her. 

When we think about Maria's death, we need to remember something about Steve Lichtenberg. At a National Abortion Federation Risk Management Seminar in the 1990s*, Michael Burnhill of the Alan Guttmacher Institute scolded Lichtenberg for "playing Russian roulette" with patients' lives by performing risky abortions in an outpatient setting and treating serious complications on site in his procedure room rather than transporting them to a hospital. Evidently Lichtenberg chose not to listen to Burnhill's warning. In fact, I think that Deanna Bell had lost her life in Lichtenberg's deadly game before Burnhill gave Lichtenberg his scolding. Deanna died in 1992 when Lichtenberg gave her a massive overdose of Brevital, a drug not approved for use in pediatric patients like 13-year-old Deanna. 

Lichtenberg had, I'm sure, already gotten his warning before Nakia Jorden stepped into his facility in 1998. Like Deanna Bell, Kia died due to sloppy anesthesia practices. Ditto Maria Leho, who died at Albany the following year.

*I listened to years of tapes of National Abortion Federation meetings when I worked at Life Dynamics in the 1990s, and unfortunately did not take a copy of our files about what was revealed in those NAF tapes with me. I only have my memory and thus don't know what year the event in question took place. This exchange between Lichtenberg and Burnhill was seared into my mind because of Deanna's death.

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